My current project requires a lot of translation work, where the main character is slowly piecing together a language. I'm assuming that the best way to show the foreign language is with italics. What is the best way to show the translation? I've been using single quotes but I'm not sure if that's right.

"zore ya tukio dahs."
Her dictionary said that tukio meant 'was'.

Is there a better way?

2 Answers 2


In your example:

Her dictionary said that tukio meant 'was'.

The word "tukio" needs to be in the same quotation marks as the word "was" is set in, such that:

Her dictionary said that 'tukio' meant 'was'.

Judging by your use of Punctuation, I'm going to guess you are using a British English writing guide as opposed to a North American guide. As stated, it may look weird to Americans like myself, but it's grammatically acceptable otherwise. When translating a word, italicized words are fine, but you should be consistent with both the foriegn equivelent and English language equivelent such that:

Her dictionary said that 'tukio' meant 'was'.

Wit respect to your first sentance:

"zore ya tukio dahs."

The 'z' in "zore" should be capitalized:

"Zore ya tukio dahs."

Unless in very special cases where the language uses different capitalization rules. For example, in the fictional Klingon language, Capitilization denotes stress, not position in a sentance, as well as proper nouns. The best and most common example is the word "petaQ" (a fairly offensive term meaning "dishonored." Though given that it's never translated in universe by the show's universal translators, it likely has no real direct English Language Equivelent) which always has a lower case 'p' and an upper case "Q" when written, even if the word starts a sentance.

Finally, as noteded above, certain words are never translated for some reasons. It could be that the idea that word represents has no English language equivelent. For example, in ancient Greek, there are two words that translate to "time": "Chronos" and "Kairos." However, these two terms mean two different concepts that don't directly translate to English. The former, "Chronos" means "chronological time" which we understand as dates or progression of events. "Kairos" on the other hand, refers to, as Jack Sparrow would best denote, an Oppertune Momement in time ("Chronos") to strike or act. To put it another way, in the events of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" do hinge on these concepts. In both films, someone travels through "Chronos" to find a "Kairos" (Dr. Strange, The Time Heist are Chronos, but both realize that victory relies on a "Kairos", that is Tony Stark's 1 in 14 million decision that results in a favorable outcome. These concepts don't make sense to use because we use the word "time" to denote both things. Tony travels through time, but he can only has one time to be successful. To make matters worse, "Kairos" and words deriving from "Chronos" both appear in the English Language and have very different meanings (The English "Kairos" refers to periods in existential questioning that prompt an answer or specific action, especially related to matters of religious or spiritual belief... among other meanings).

In these situations, it may be best to leave the word untranslated, but have someone explain the nearest English equivelent such that:

The Avengers travelled through time to bring Tony Stark to a Kairos; an oppertune moment to defeat Thanos.

Here, the foreign concept was given attention by both italicizing so to highlight it's not a concept the reader would understand... and then immediately defined. This could be done with quotes or quotes and itlization equally, so long as you are consistently following the rules you the writer apply.

  • "I'm going to guess you are using a British English writing guide as opposed to a North American guide." I'm actually not using any writing guide, and I am a North American. What am I doing that's weird from a North America writing guide perspective?
    – Califer
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 23:17
  • 1
    You put the period outside of the quotation mark (British English) and used single quotes ('example') instead of double quotes ("example"). North American English normally does double quotes with single quotes used for quotes within quotes. British English uses single quotes with double quotes for quotes within quotes. Again, there's no wrong way to do it, so long as you do it consistently.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 18:30

You can just use regular quotation marks. Single quotes is not invalid, per se, but it's not standard in a context where you're using double quotes for quotations elsewhere.

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